Semi-New Song Sunday: Quakers

Quakers is a sprawling hip-hop sampler, and the samples are my favorite part

A decade old but new to me: Quakers, with “Fitta Happier.” The project is three producers, including one of the guys from Portishead, with a rotating line-up of MCs. The track uses samples from a marching band medley of Radiohead songs.

I’ve never cared much for Portishead or Radiohead, and I only tend to like the most pop/rock-oriented hip hop, but this track is fantastic. It’s from the first album from 2012, which is full of some amazing samples.

They released a sequel last November, but so far it hasn’t grabbed me like the first one. “Test My Patience” isn’t bad, though.

Edited to add: If you’re curious, here’s the marching band performance that’s sampled in “Fitta Happier,” from the 2006 Pride of Arizona. (If you’re as impatient as I am, it starts around 6:00).

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: In Search of Lost Fountains


There are many books that I’ve never read and will never read, but still like to make easy references to in order to sound more literate, the same way that lazy TV writers reference A Christmas Carol around December, and traitors to the United States reference 1984. One of those is Remembrances of Things Past, which I only discovered today is more often translated as In Search of Lost Time.

And the one thing about that work that everyone knows is the part about vivid involuntary memory conjured by eating a piece of cake. Maybe I should stop pseudo-referencing Proust and instead update it to something I have actually seen, and compare it to the end of Ratatouille?

Anyway, the older I get, the easier it is to narrow down my favorite place on the entire planet Earth: the area stretching from Crescent Lake to the center of Future World in Epcot.

When I want to go back there mentally, there are two pieces of music that never fail to deliver. One is “Linwood Road” by Billy Joe Walker, Jr. This was (is?) part of the background music loop playing just outside of the Yacht & Beach Club. Hearing it now, I can actually feel that muggy heat of central Florida in late spring, not yet hot enough to be oppressive, because it’s early morning and because you can still feel the perpetual cold of constant air conditioning. I can actually taste the blueberry muffin I had from the lobby just about every morning, which like a lot of stuff at Disney, is good but nowhere near as good as you were imagining. I can hear the kids screaming in the pool and feel the calm of knowing that they’re not my responsibility. And I can see the Friendship Boat coming from the BoardWalk, on its way to take people to MGM Studios.

The other is, not surprisingly, the music from Epcot’s Future World/Innoventions area. It’s funny that this is so easy to find online these days, since I can remember a few years when I was desperate to be able to listen to it outside the parks. I ended up getting a copy from some anonymous person from a small Disney music-obsessive message board, who had access to the original tracks, and it felt dangerous and illicit, like meeting Deep Throat in a parking garage.

Hearing it now puts me right outside the Mouse Gear store, sitting and watching the fountain that used to be at the center of Future World. (And smoking, but I don’t miss that part). Or leaving for the monorail right after it’s gotten dark, and the fiber-optic patterns in the concrete have started to light up.

I think part of the reason I can’t get too upset about all the changes in the works at Epcot is that I’ve got even more vivid memories of that place than I do of apartments I’ve lived in.

Semi-New Song Sunday: Aaron Frazer

Even the most faithful recreations of “vintage” music can add something new

The video to Aaron Frazer’s “Bad News” is remarkable: a fascinating dance performance around a section of Brooklyn, set to a song that’s such a faithful recreation of 70s R&B that you’d wonder if the dance was the entire point, not the music. Which I think is a bold move for a singer making his solo debut.

As I understand it, Frazer was drummer and occasional singer with Durand Jones & The Indications, a band that Jones started with three of his classmates. I keep seeing that band’s music, as well as Frazer’s solo album, described as “vintage” and “nostalgic,” which can come across as a tactful way of saying “looking backwards without adding anything new.”

And since I’ve never been a particularly big fan of R&B or soul, it does kind of blend into the background for me — I like it quite a bit, but I need some kind of hook to make me genuinely interested. Here, there’s an undercurrent of activism and social consciousness; it’s not accidental that it calls back to the music of the Civil Rights movement. It’s a reminder that music can be more than just escapist and commercial, but an agent of change.

The bigger hook for me with Frazer’s music, though, is the variety of arrangements. I first heard of him yesterday courtesy of a live performance of five songs for KEXP, which makes every one 10 times more interesting than the album versions I’ve heard so far.

Honestly, as soon as I saw a young man sit down with an acoustic guitar and start singing in a high falsetto, I was reminded of James in one of the greatest scenes in Twin Peaks. But the string quartet, and the earnestness of it, won me over quickly. The second track seems to lean even harder into the Twin Peaks vibe, with a clean-cut guy singing at a mic in what seems to be an annex of the Roadhouse. But with each song, they change up the instrumentation a bit and show a different side of the music.

It all calls back to R&B and soul from around 1960 to 1977 or so — I’m not musically literate enough to pinpoint it better than that — but instead of feeling like just a slavish recreation, it feels more like a celebration. I started out skeptical, but over the course of five songs I became a fan.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Simmer Down Now, your soft rock FM in the AM

Last night, we decided to forgo my usual white noise and try Apple Music’s playlist for so-called “Peaceful Sleep.” Apparently, I fell asleep eventually, but it was a battle. I’ve never been able to sleep with music playing, partly because a part of my brain is always waiting for the next bar to finish. Maybe too many years in band trained me to pay super-close attention to music, so I don’t miss my cue.

But there is some music that can calm my brain, like the two tunes for today. First is Angelika Suspended, which was from a short side project by Poi Dog Pondering. I first heard this in college and it’s still one of my favorite pieces of music.

Next is Super Triangle by the Go! Team. It already made me think of 1970s educational animation even before they made that excellent video. It’s very calming to have nostalgia for a time when all I had to worry about was when 3-2-1 Contact was going to be on.

Flourish! (My Take on WandaVision’s Finale)

WandaVision’s excellent finale somehow did everything it needed to do and so much of what it wanted to do

I avoided the internet for any risk of spoilers before watching the finale episode of WandaVision (titled, appropriately, “The Series Finale”), and you should, too. This post is going to be about the finale and the entire season so far.

Despite my precautions, I did manage to see one tweet saying that it relied too much on spectacle and tried to pack too much into one episode. As somebody who’s been an unabashed fan of this series from episode one, who thinks it’s been groundbreaking and near flawless in execution, and who’s spent hours thinking about each episode, my reaction to that opinion was: “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

I mean, this series is kicking off the next phase of the MCU.1I think Spider-Man: Far From Home is “officially” the start of the next phase, but it felt to me more like an epilogue than a kick-off. But it’s been noticeably light on superhero battles so far, and the past couple of episodes have been setting up four separate showdowns between hero and villain all converging in one place.

It seemed inevitable that this intelligent, relentlessly self-aware, character-driven series would have to wrap up its experiment and settle into its place in the MCU franchise. And that’s not such a bad thing: I liked Infinity War and Endgame a lot, but there’s no denying that they were unapologetically overwrought and overstuffed.

Not to mention that my own expectations have been overwrought and overstuffed. Other people on the internet have been spending weeks getting more and more hyped up about secret cameos, introductions of the multiverse, tie-ins with mutants, layers on layers of hidden references, Mephisto, Nightmare, Wundagore, and introducing decades of conflicting comics continuity into a 9-episode TV series. Meanwhile, I’ve been building up the show as this multi-layered, meta-textual masterpiece that has as much to say about the very nature of storytelling as it does about infinity stones. I had to prepare myself for Marvel to say, “Nah, we just wanted to parody some old TV series. Did you catch our hidden message about how sitcoms represent escapism?”

Continue reading “Flourish! (My Take on WandaVision’s Finale)”

Semi-New Song Sunday: Miike Snow

“Discovering” super-popular bands is part of the whole reason for this weekly series

The video for “Genghis Khan” has over 48 million views on YouTube, so stop me if you’ve heard this one. I first saw it last week after being reminded of St. Vincent’s “Fast Slow Disco” and wondering why I never see as slickly-produced videos made by actual gay men. A google search for “gay videos” turned up a list including this one, which is either tone-deaf or insulting, I haven’t yet figured out which.

I like the video — which is about a super-villain and secret agent who want something more from their relationship — a lot, but calling it “gay” is dumb, because it’s played entirely for laughs. One of my continued annoyances is that people seem to be unable or unwilling to tell the difference: it’s like whenever someone would post a meme showing Trump & Putin making out, and people would get all up in arms calling it “homophobic.” The point isn’t that they’re two men, the point was that they had a relationship inappropriate for the supposed leaders of two rival nations.

Anyway. “Genghis Khan” is a good video, and the two performers carried on, coincidentally, as the peace-loving leaders of two rival Cold-Warring nations in the video for “My Trigger,” which is almost as good.

But the band isn’t new, and as it turns out, they’re not even new to me. I’ve been a fan of “Animal” for a while, but never knew the name of the band. Ever the trend-setters, they were wearing masks long before COVID-19 even became a thing.

Arrogance Persevering

Thoughts about jackasses on the internet and how much of my life I’ve wasted responding to them.

Yet another thing that I have to thank WandaVision for: maybe I can finally stop feeling the need to respond to arrogant dipshits on the internet? Last week’s excellent episode had an extremely well-written and well-performed scene in which Vision reminded a grieving Wanda that what she was feeling wasn’t just sorrow and emptiness. “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

An objectively good line in an objectively good scene in an objectively good show. ‘Nuff said!

Except Twitter’s gonna Twit, so the whole weekend was filled with some people gushing about what a well-written moment that was… followed by an assload of trolls, snobs, condescending misogynist dolts, insufferable anti-corporate twits, and generally arrogant an awful people mocking it — and the series as a whole — as being insultingly beneath them.

Continue reading “Arrogance Persevering”

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: For the Boys

Two videos I just want to watch, so back off, okay?

Is there a word for when you feel like something is blatantly, shamelessly pandering to you, but you’re still into it for reasons beyond your control? That’s how I feel whenever I watch the video to “Fast Slow Disco” by St. Vincent.

But maybe I’m being dismissive of its artistry. Perhaps I should watch it again.

I can’t get too into this video, because I get irrationally and unfairly annoyed whenever I see women in gay bars. I also think that while I’m still a huge fan of St. Vincent, sometime around Masseduction she started over-estimating her own coolness by about 10-20%, and she could stand to pump the brakes a bit.

But it’s still a pretty good song, and I can hardly ever turn down a chance to watch guys with their shirts off making out with each other. And even though it feels a little like she’s wearing a gay bear leather bar as a costume — similar to how Lady Gaga’s meat dress probably wasn’t intended to make people think about cows — it’s nice to see someone fairly mainstream normalizing body types like this as being sexy and fun. This video isn’t all that sexier than the one for “Cold-Hearted” by Paula Abdul, and that one ran constantly in 1989 — on network television, even! — back when I was still trying to figure out why the scenes with Bob Hoskins and Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? were clearly connecting with me in a way they weren’t intended to.

Completely unrelated, here’s Michael Sembello lip-syncing “Maniac” for American Bandstand in 1983. Kudos to red beret guy for making the most of his camera time!

Semi-New Song Sunday: Arlo Parks

Poet and musician shows that “calming & relaxing” can have some amount of substance

I’ve had good luck with the algorithm this week: just five minutes ago, I checked Apple Music to see if there were any interesting recommendations, and it offered up Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks. “Hope” is a standout song because it’s the mission statement of the album: uplifting music about a topic with substance.

It first reminds me of Morcheeba, probably because that’s the only frame of reference I have for a British woman singing over a lofi electronic track. Parks’s music isn’t as musically complex or unusual as even Morcheeba’s (which deliberately is about “chill”1In quotes because using chill as an adjective is a huge pet peeve for me more than challenge) but the lyrics are much more complex.

I also like “Portra 400” from the same album.

Not an Imaginary Story! (One Thing I Like About WandaVision Episode 8)

Episode 8 of WandaVision has what I believe are some great ideas about what’s actually “real”

Lots of spoilers for the entire series of WandaVision in this blog post, obviously, so read at your own peril.

Once again, WandaVision has taken us out of the fantastic bubble of Westview, dumping us into the mundane real world of the MCU, with its boring old stories of centuries-old covens of witches, and top-secret government facilities building fantastic sci-fi weapons to keep super-powered heroes in check.

Like you might expect from an episode titled “Previously On,” this one was full of exposition, delivered via speeches and flashbacks. Like you’d expect from WandaVision, it’s all so well-written and performed and executed that it’s almost a shame that the series’s weird and novel format distracts from how well made the show is.

But right as it ended, I felt a little disappointed. All along,1You’re humming the tune now, aren’t you? my favorite thing about the show has been that I’ve felt completely in sync with the storytelling, even though I recognized almost none of its Easter eggs, comics lore, or ever-growing MCU internal lore.2I nodded sagely when the videos pointed out that Strücker was the name of a Hydra agent, then felt kind of dumb when they pointed out that he was a fairly significant character in a movie that I’ve seen twice. This episode had the most genuinely moving moment in the series so far, if not the entire MCU: of course, it’s Vision’s description of grief as being not emptiness, but “love persevering,” which is especially relevant to everyone who survived 2020. But then it ended with a moment that felt so jarringly artificial to me that it knocked me out of the story so hard, you’d think that I’d just mentioned Ultron.

Continue reading “Not an Imaginary Story! (One Thing I Like About WandaVision Episode 8)”